Hayley Wickenheiser broke a teammate’s hand without knowing it. She often got in trouble with Team Canada staff for working out too much. She won her last Olympic gold medal on a broken foot, and didn’t tell teammates about the injury until after the final whistle. When she got her grandpa’s new truck stuck in a snow bank in Saskatchewan, Wickenheiser tried to dig it out with her hands.
On Monday, the uh, slightly intense 41-year-old from Shaunavon, Sask., will officially be enshrined among the greatest the game has ever known. She headlines the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class. For so long, she has been the best ever. For so many, she was the first name they knew in women’s hockey, their introduction. Those who knew next to nothing still knew Wickenheiser.
She won four Olympic gold medals and seven world championships and amassed the most points of any woman ever over a 23-year career with Team Canada. Hers is a career and a talent that could spawn its own mythology, so here a bunch of former teammates and two former rivals share their best memories about No. 22.
FIONA SMITH-BELL, childhood friend and Team Canada teammate We met when we were trying out for a Canada Winter Games team. I think Hayley was 12 and I was 17. The coach pulled me aside and said, “We have this young up-and-coming star. Would you be able to take her under your wing, make sure she sits beside you in the dressing room? Her name is Hayley.” You could see her intensity, even back then, she was so determined and powerful at 12 years old. I remember early on we had a scrimmage that ended in a shootout. She skated down on the goalie and of course she put the puck in the net. It was just, “Wow.”
Hayley didn’t end up playing for Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games that year. She moved to Calgary and played for Alberta. They ended up winning the gold medal [laughs]. Yeah, go figure.
CAMMI GRANATO, Team USA forward, Hall of Famer I met Hayley as a 13-year-old at a camp in Summerland [B.C.]. She was a standout at 13, you knew she had something special. I was 18 at the time and I remember giving her a 50-cent piece and I said, “I’ll see you in about five years. I’ll see you on the Canadian national team one day.”
Two years later — two years later — she’s on the blueline across from me, playing for Team Canada. I was like, “What?”
SAMI-JO SMALL, Team Canada goalie and teammate Her nickname was “Highchair Hayley” because she was so young when she joined the team.
DANIELLE GOYETTE, long-time Team Canada linemate, Hall of Famer She came in, she was 15 years old and fearless. It was her first experience, that’s not an easy thing to do for a 15-year-old to go to the national team, but you could see how hungry she was. And she came in at that young age with a slap shot that we were not used to seeing in the women’s game.
She had a chance to play on the same line as Angela James, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I think from that world championship [Wickenheiser’s first, in 1994] she knew she belonged at that level.
SMALL I had never played girls’ hockey, but I was asked to attend a practice with a few national team girls in Calgary. The next morning at 5 a.m., Hayley Wickenheiser picks me up in her little Volkswagen Rabbit. We stuffed my pads in there. I knew who she was — my mom would tape the [world championship] final game every year, but it’s not like we could read about these players or anything, so I didn’t have a full understanding of who Hayley was.
I remember getting on the ice and seeing her skill and thinking: “Wow, she plays just like the guys.” And she transformed my thinking. I would’ve said that I was a male chauvinist, because I really thought girls couldn’t play hockey. I didn’t understand their skill level until I faced Hayley Wickenheiser and saw that she could take a snapshot off one foot from just inside the blueline. That was the first time I ever saw a woman do that. She transformed my thinking about women’s hockey, and I’m just one person. She’s done that for millions of people.
The 1998 Olympics in Nagano were the first to host women’s hockey. Canada came in as the favourite, but lost in the gold medal game to Team USA. The 19-year-old Wickenheiser had eight points in six games, second only to Goyette on Team Canada.
SMALL In the middle of the gold medal game in Nagano, Hayley had stitches across her elbow. She fell, her elbow pad moved and it split her elbow open. I don’t even think anybody knows that; it was never mentioned. She just went and got it stitched up and she was back in the game, it was a no-brainer for her. Whereas for everybody else, that would’ve been talked about and been in the newspaper the next day. Everything she does is just a little different, I guess.
SMITH-BELL Obviously that wasn’t the outcome we wanted, and we felt pretty drained after. We decided to go to Hawaii. It was Hayley and I and [teammate] Judy Diduck and Judy’s sister. Hayley had set up with a family in Hawaii that was going to pick us up. They took us out for dinner and asked if we could teach their kids to skate. They took us to the rink and gave us these figure skates with the toe picks taken off. We’re laughing so hard, here’s three Olympians that step on the ice and there’s no edges on these skates at all. Hayley was standing on the boards literally hanging on as she was trying to skate. She could barely move. I managed to get my feet under me and I was able to pass her a few times. I think that was the only time I was able to beat her in anything. No, she wasn’t happy about it.
Canada won its first-ever women’s Olympic hockey gold four years later in Salt Lake City. Wickenheiser was named MVP and her 10 points tied for tops in the tournament (with Goyette and Granato). She also scored the game-tying goal in the gold medal final.
SMALL After we won in Salt Lake — one of the biggest moments in all of our collective hockey careers — there were a bunch of events and people were welcoming us when we came home. The nation really celebrated us, and it was amazing. But Hayley decided to just drive home and kind of missed it all. She got there two or three weeks after. Taking the time to celebrate is not really part of her DNA.
And yet, even if Wickenheiser passed up some celebrations, Canada by this point was well acquainted with her. She was the biggest star in the women’s game.
KACEY BELLAMY, Team USA defender It was one of my fondest memories, the first time playing for Team USA. We were in Kitchener, Ont., in 2006 [for a 4 Nations Cup]. It was sold out. When Hayley Wickenheiser’s name got announced, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an arena so loud. I’ll always remember her getting a standing ovation. It was very eye-opening to me, and I thought that was really cool for a women’s hockey player to be known like that.
We lost and I’ll never forget, they just played so dominantly. You could feel that they knew they were No. 1 and Hayley was the captain at the time. You could see she carried the team.
GRANATO She always had that mindset, you could see how badly she wanted to win every time we played them.
BELLAMY She separated herself as a professional, and I saw that right away. She was bigger and stronger and it was like no matter where you were around the puck, you weren’t going to push her off it. She was my motivation of, “Okay, I need to get stronger. And I need to work out harder.” Because I can’t be going in the corner and losing battles against her.
GRANATO Hayley and I had to go head-to-head all the time. All the time. We were standing in each other’s way on the ice, that’s the way we looked at each other. In fact, the only time I’ve ever gotten stitches in hockey was from her [laughs]. We were playing in a series, eight games against Canada in a pre-Olympic tour. Hayley and I went into the corner and it was heated and the next thing I know, I’m in a head lock and I’m on the ground. She threw me to the ground and I hit my face.
I was proud of myself that I didn’t miss a shift, though. I did get stitched up in the middle of the period [laughs].
BELLAMY As a young player, she kind of made you scared shitless of her, you know? She had an intimidation factor. Coming into the program I was 20 years old, and you’re going against the captain of Team Canada — everyone worships the ground she walks on. If you hit her, or you’re in front of the net with her, you’re going to have other players on her team coming after you.
GRANATO To me, Hayley was always at her best when the game counted. When the game meant something, she showed up. Against us, we saw her best. Intense, physical, she wanted the puck, she wanted to be the one to score, she wanted to be in the big situations. And many times she was the one capitalizing on that. She was a gamer.
BELLAMY The funny thing is, I played against her for a decade and I don’t think I have ever spoken a word to her, even if we were in the same hotel, even if we walked past each other at the rink. That was just the rivalry at that time. That era, from 2006 to 2010, Canada and the U.S. really didn’t talk to each other. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to her. She lives that rivalry of Canada-U.S., you can tell.
More often than not, Wickenheiser was on the winning side of that rivalry. Canada won a second straight Olympic gold in 2006, then she captained the team to another on home soil in Vancouver in 2010. Her leadership style was more action than talk, and Wickenheiser expected her teammates to have the focus and work ethic that she displayed every day.
MEAGHAN MIKKELSON, Team Canada defender, teammate I remember in Vancouver, it was after the first period, we were up 2–0 in the gold medal game and I don’t know if we looked like we were getting comfortable on the ice or in the dressing room we were just kind of having a good time. She spoke up then. She said we need to stick to the game plan, there’s still lots of hockey left, they could score at any time. She made sure we weren’t getting too comfortable and complacent. She didn’t talk a lot in the dressing room, but you remember when she did. And it was always focused and intense.
REBECCA JOHNSTON, Team Canada teammate She is by far one of the most intense people I’ve ever met. Maybe the most intense ever.
SMALL I have this image of her in my mind, just sitting in the dressing room, biting her bottom lip and rocking back-and-forth and staring into the Team Canada icon in the middle of the room. You could see her going over each play in her mind.
GOYETTE I am intense, but I did not ever play with somebody that is more intense than Wick. When we played together after a while they had to split us up because it was so intense, so competitive. They split us apart for a week and then put us back together. I think that’s why I played that long, because she challenged me and pushed me to be the best I can be.
JOHNSTON She might get mad at me, but she gets so intense on the ice that it’s to the point where she doesn’t even recognize when she has, like, snot running down her face [laughs]. It happened multiple times. She would have a runny nose and you would look at her and she’d have snot down her face, like it was normal, and she never fixed it. She’s so into the game that maybe she didn’t notice. I was too nervous to say anything to her [laughs].
MIKKELSON Maybe she did notice, but she just would leave it [laughs].
GRANATO She’s a fierce competitor, and we all are, but she wore her intensity on her sleeve. You could see it. You could see it every shift she played and you could definitely see it in the big games, she would rise.
MIKKELSON One thing that sticks out in my mind is Wick warming up, always. The minute she got to the rink, she had this laser-like focus. She would be already warming up when everybody showed up. It didn’t matter if we were at some small rink in Edmonton with no space to warm up she would find her space. Or she would put on her tuque and mitts and track pants and outside she would go. By herself. Practice, skill session, game, no matter what, she’d be out there in her track pants warming up. In my mind, I see her warming up in a pair of Hockey Canada track pants.
SMALL Coaches would have to slow her down. She always had secret training sessions in addition to the ones we were doing with the team. She would often get in trouble for doing too much, doing more, never stopping.
SMITH-BELL I don’t think there was ever a day off in her program, it wasn’t in her vocabulary to rest. It was fun at times to witness and then other times you wanted to say to her: “Wick, take a day off. It’s not going to hurt you.”
And if anyone has ever driven with Hayley, she drives like she plays. She’s maximum intensity in a vehicle [laughs]. She used to drive a motorbike. I would never ever go on the back of a motorbike with her [laughs].
I remember Hayley was over visiting our place about 10 years ago while she was out there on her Grandpa’s farm. He had bought a brand new truck, and I think he was a little nervous about lending it to her. We had just got a huge snowfall and we shoveled out our driveway. I warned her when she was leaving, “Hey Wick, we’ve got a long driveway and we got a lot of snow, so heads up. Just be careful.” As she was backing up in Hayley style, she cranked the wheel too soon and all I could see was a big puff of snow fly up in the air. She doesn’t want to come to the door — she’s trying to dig herself out with her hands because she is so far in the snowbank. She can’t get out.
Hayley doesn’t give up, but she realized that I saw her and she was like, “Oh, I’m busted now.” She came and knocked on the door. We had to go and shovel her out. That’s Hayley for you. So determined.
Wickenheiser’s drive and focus were sometimes difficult for teammates, and not just in vehicles. She wasn’t one to heap praise, and was more likely to demand better from those around her.
SMALL Within a team, she’s a very different person. She tends to be apart and holds herself to higher standards. And I think that’s why we all looked to her for that professionalism. She was a professional before that word even existed for women in hockey. She always sat at the front of the bus, right behind the staff without talking to too many people. She was often very hard on her teammates.
JOHNSTON She wasn’t afraid to tell you if you could’ve done something better or worked harder. She never let anyone off easy. She held us all accountable.
MIKKELSON When she did say something nice and gave you a compliment, you knew that it was well-deserved. Because it wasn’t often. I’ll never forget, at my first world championships in 2008, we were in Harbin, China. It was one of our first practices and we’re skating around at the start, people are warming up, and she went out of her way to talk to me. She told me she thought I was a great player and that I was there for a reason, and just to keep it simple, do my job and if I see a play, move the puck. When she said, “You’re here for a reason,” I was like, “Holy shit, I guess I’m here for a reason! If she thinks I should be here, I guess I belong here.”
SMALL Away from the rink, she’s such a great person. She would go to the end of the earth for any of her teammates, you just might not know that inside a hockey rink. There were no big smiles when she came in the dressing room or “You’re doing a great job.” It was, “Can you do more? Can you lift more? Can you be better?”
MIKKELSON Looking back, she had a lot going on in her life, she had [her son] Noah, and you have to be like that at the rink when you have that much going on outside the rink. She held her teammates accountable. Could she have been a little bit nicer to the rookies? Maybe. But it’s that accountability piece.
Wickenheiser’s final Olympic gold medal came in Sochi, where the Canadian women orchestrated a comeback for the ages, down two goals to Team USA with fewer than four minutes to go in regulation. It was Marie-Philip Poulin who delivered for Canada in overtime to complete the comeback. The gold medal was Canada’s and Wickenheiser’s fourth straight, which ties the record for most by a Canadian at an Olympics.
JOHNSTON We didn’t know that she had a broken foot at the time.
MIKKELSON She has played with a ridiculous amount of injuries. Most of the time, you never knew that she was injured. She was so tough.
JOHNSTON There was nothing that was going to stop her from missing any games at the Olympics, that’s for sure. Her pain tolerance is so high and she’s so focused before and during the game that she probably doesn’t even recognize the pain in her foot, she just blocks it out.
MIKKELSON I broke my hand in Sochi — it was actually her that I ran into. I think we were working on power play and penalty kill in practice and we skated by each other and I broke my finger running into her. Afterwards I went and got X-rays and found out it was broken and put a splint on it. I saw her in the Olympic village and she’s like, “Oh, what happened?” She had no idea. I’m like, “Dude, I broke my finger on you, running into you” [laughs]. She was like, “Holy shit, really?” She didn’t even remember running into me.
She said to me, “You’ll be surprised how much your adrenaline will kick in and you’ll be able to play through it. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.” With complete and total confidence: “You’ll be fine.” I’m like, “Okay, I can’t hold my stick, but we’ll see how it goes.” But she was totally right. They froze my hand and I played 24 minutes in the final, which was the second-most minutes among defencemen, and I played one of the best games of my life.
And it’s funny because for the majority of the year I think her foot was close to broken or totally broken, but none of us knew. She just played. Even when I had broken my hand, she still didn’t tell me she had a broken foot. Like, I don’t know. Her mental toughness is otherworldly. It’s insane.
We know about her toughness and drive and all the points she put up, but teammates say Wickenheiser is very private, that few know her well. Her impact on the game, though, is unmistakable.
SMALL I think the public knows 10 per cent of who Hayley is. I don’t think she allows most people in, including teammates and coaches. People who know her best are childhood friends, her parents, her family. I try to ask a lot of questions, but do I really know her? I mean, I don’t know that any of us really do [laughs].
MIKKELSON You look at a lot of the things she does, going to Humboldt [after the Broncos’ fatal bus accident]. There was a young girl, she had cancer and Wick got quite close with her and would send her video messages, go visit her in the hospital a lot. Her involvement in the community and giving back, that shows that side of her. You get that intense, rough-around-the-edges person at the rink, but whenever I talk to her outside of the rink, anything hockey aside, she is a very nice and caring and kind person.
SMITH-BELL It takes a special personality and a lot of focus to do what she has done. I believe she’s the one who put women’s hockey on the map, globally. She’s right up there as one of the greatest ambassadors not even of female hockey, but female sport in general. I don’t think I’ve met a person today that doesn’t know who she is.
BELLAMY It’s an honour to be able to play against her and she’ll go down as one of the best players in women’s hockey history.
GRANATO You think of Hockey Canada, you think of Hayley Wickenheiser.
SMALL I think a lot of people assume she’s already in the Hall of Fame. She just is so iconic.
GOYETTE When I think about Hayley, I think about consistency. What she did from ’94 to 2017 is remarkable. That’s a player that was so consistent day in and day out. She’s the top scorer ever for Team Canada and I think she’s going to stay there for a long, long time. I’m not sure if we’re going to see anybody who’s going to be more productive than she was on the national team.
She’s the best player I’ve ever played with. For years and years. It was not always fun because it was so intense, but I would not change it.
SMALL I hope through this process people realize what she has done. I’m hoping that through all this her accolades are really accentuated, that people recognize her incredible longevity in the sport. She’s not one to be boastful or to be in the public eye. I think it’s hard for her to stop and just enjoy. I’ve tried to help allow her to see how much she’s accomplished, and sometimes that’s hard because she’s always onto the next thing and the next thing and how can we do more and how can we be better.
I hope she can stop and realize what impact she has had on the country, on the individuals who’ve been fortunate enough to play alongside her. I think because she’s been hard on people, I don’t know if she always knows just how much in the end they appreciated it.
MIKKELSON I have so much respect for her and I’m so proud to have played with her.
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